Why I Cook — In China

I have a confession to make. For the first four and a half years I lived in China, I did almost no cooking. Sure, I owned all the necessary equipment- I made sure of that. I wanted people to think I cooked, but didn’t really want to actually do it.  Going out to eat seemed so much easier. After all, it was cheap, tasty, and sociable. As a single man, the process of buying ingredients, preparing a meal, and eating it in solitude seemed unrewarding. Plus, then I’d have to wash the dishes. Who wants to spend their evenings doing that?

I suppose had I arrived in China a little later in life, I’d have known how to cook. Over the years the friends with whom I used to scarf burritos and pizzas during our university days gradually learned how to prepare their own meals. They had little choice; in the West, young people with meager salaries simply cannot afford to eat in restaurants all the time.

But in China, eating in restaurants is one of life’s great pleasures.  From the beginning I embraced the wonderful Chinese concept of 热闹: hot and noisy. I’d gather a group of friends, order way too much food, and enjoy a raucous meal for a mere fraction of the amount it would cost back at home. And when you’re done, you’re done. No dishes!

I admit this is a strange way to begin an essay about why I now like to cook. I think, however, that my experience described above might resonate with some of you who, like me, enjoyed a mid-20s period of adolescence as laowai in China.

As you might have guessed, I now cook. I cook even though it probably doesn’t save me a lot of money, even though my repertoire of dishes isn’t terribly impressive, even though I could certainly spend my free time doing other things I like. I cook even though I live in a neighborhood where there are literally dozens of cheap and cheerful dining options.

So in homage to a neat little essay I stumbled upon this morning, I now present why I cook:

  • I cook because I derive an almost primeval pleasure in controlling fire
  • I cook because I like to know exactly what I’m eating- a lifetime of eating processed foods, America’s unfortunate contribution to global cuisine, has instilled me with a desire to eat simple, natural foods.
  • I cook because as I approach 30, being able to provide for myself- and perhaps someday for others- has become a greater priority.
  • I cook because sometimes I can cook for others, and seeing their enjoyment of my culinary creation is a real pleasure
  • I cook because I’m not one of those people who can just eat anything and not gain weight. To the contrary, if I don’t watch what I eat I can fatten up real fast.
  • I cook because I was raised by two good cooks and feel that the ability to do so is part of my lineage.
  • I cook because I love food. And wine.
  • I cook because I even like doing the dishes now. Funny, huh?

What about you? Why do you (or don’t you) cook? Perhaps a lost-laowai recipe thread might be the offing, no?

photo by massdistraction.